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Tech Time: 5 Pointers to Make User Conferences…Useful

September 2017: Vol 40 No 9
Sam Kilmer
Credit union execs have realized how important these gatherings are for due diligence and forecasting the future of their major providers.

Conference attendee asks a question during Q&AReprinted with permission from GonzoBanker. Read the original here.

“Trust, but verify.” –Ronald Reagan 

More people than ever are attending user conferences hosted by industry technology providers. Everybody is in on the action. As a Forbes article pointed out, “Every company is a technology company.” And with the number of executive-level clients and prospective attendees flooding the halls, many providers even stopped calling them user conferences years ago.

Realizing the influence of these events on client satisfaction and new client acquisition, vendors have the massive planning behind these events down to a science. Hey, turning an Orlando hotel bright green or a Vegas casino bright orange takes a lot of prep. 

For the most part, mid-size banks and credit unions don’t develop their own technology, but instead rely on vendors to support their performance and growth. Bank and credit union execs have realized how important these conferences are for due diligence and forecasting the future of their major providers. The vendor that misses delivery of a major new capability can pose a significant competitive problem for its clients. Over the years, I’ve participated in vendor conferences as a financial institution manager, then a vendor exec and now as a consultant, and these events seem more important now than ever. Vendors that prepare this much for an event are setting the stage for meaningful dialogue. But, without the right preparation and active participation by bank and credit union execs, they can be a waste of time. 

So, here are five pointers on how to get the most out of them. 

1. Before going to a user conference, sort out the terms of the relationship and come to an agreement on how well the provider is delivering on roadmap commitments. 

Based on delivery of prior roadmaps, does the provider’s execution look to be improving? Do the math and find out why or why not. 
Once at the conference, don’t just pay attention to what is being said and shown, but pay special attention to anything that is quietly de-emphasized from a prior year. And ask why. (What is not covered can be equally important.) 

 2. Look for client-led sessions or at least those where clients are actively involved.

If most of the sessions feel like scripted PowerPoints driven by the conference host executives and their referral partners, that’s a yellow warning sign for clients—who, after all, are supposed to be the primary reason for the event. Also, keep an eye out for vendor subject matter experts providing input and speaking up at sessions—not just the highly visible executive leaders. Free-form discussions with clients and detailed subject matter experts are often offer the very best insights from conferences. 

3. Use detailed, probing questions and listen for action-oriented and client-oriented answers versus conceptual, vendor-oriented and vision-oriented answers. 

Answers not only provide critical information and insight into who really knows what, but the tone of answers says something about how responsive and client-focused provider cultures are. Detailed Q&A might make some uncomfortable and seem tactical, but it usually increases the conference value for all the attendees. 

Sample Question: When will I be provided the ability to integrate my loan origination system? 

Example of a good answer: “The toolkit allowing integration with any origination system will be made available this February. We are in testing with ACME Bank, which uses your system. ACME execs are here and we’re meeting up at the reception. Should we trade notes then?” 

Example of a bad answer: “We’ll look into that, but I’d echo the point we made earlier about our patented BUZZKILL framework. We’re fostering an open, omni-channel ecosystem that will be covered by our EVP of API in our ‘Making Integration Great Again’ presentation tomorrow.”
4. Keep scorecards handy. 

A breakdown in vendor performance is often the result of a self-inflicted lack of coordination or accountability on the part of both financial institution management and the vendor. This is as true for outsourced banks as it is for shops with increasingly in-house or customized technology.

A vendor performance scorecard with detailed service levels that management sees and uses can help bridge the communication gap and prevent self-inflicted wounds. Make sure all key managers have this scorecard handy when attending industry provider events. 

5. Be the squeaky wheel that keeps turning.

When bank and credit union executives meet regularly with vendors, they get consistently better results from systems, tap more productively into functionality, make the most of updates and get a jump on new features and products. Pushy, vocal, involved clients are often among the most important for industry providers. They tend to be the survivors that help vendors move to the next level.

Done right, user conferences can be one of the more important eyeball-to-eyeball meetings that “keep it real.” They are one more leverage point for keeping on top of service levels and what’s important for the next set of contract negotiations.

As new top-line and competitiveness pressures cause financial institutions to push their providers to new stress points, user conferences are more important than ever—for both financial institutions and their solution providers. With some forethought and planning, the events can be highly productive.

Sam Kilmer is a regular contributor to GonzoBanker and specializes in strategic planning, marketing, and delivery at CUES Supplier member and strategic partner Cornerstone Advisors.  His prior experience includes strategy, analytics, digital delivery, and marketing leadership at two midsize banks and two fintech firms, most recently Harland Financial Solutions.

Thanks to Steve Williams, Bob Roth, Eric Weikart, Brad Smith, Scott Hodgins and Kaleb Seymour for their contributions to this article.

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